Stays on a budget, can it be done? Yes! Stays are the next layer of undergarments we ladies should be wearing at events. Plain and simple, most of the recommended patterns aren’t going to work without them and getting that 18th Century silhouette will be nigh impossible. So what’s the scoop on stays?
What are they: Stays are a basic 18th century undergarment that aids in support of the body and outer garments and gently shapes the body into the desired silhouette for the time. Stays during this time were not restrictive in that women could haul water, chop wood, and tend children with ease. They did not function to minimize waist size, they were merely shapewear ala modern Spanx. They gently flatten your tummy and put The Girls in their place. Stays were vital for supporting heavy layers of outer wear; multiple petticoats, pockets, aprons, and all sorts of things are tied and tacked to a woman’s waist and that adds a lot of weight to the hips. A little bit of support can go a long way there.
Who wore them: Everyone. Women of all ages and social classes would have worn stays, yes even the women of the lowest classes and those who lived on the western edges of the frontier. Charitable campaigns were set up to help make stays for the most destitute of women and the secondhand clothing market was flourishing making stays accessible to all women. Even children, including young boys, wore stays to help encourage good posture and correct growth – but we’ll save that for another post.
What are they made of: Layers of linen with reed or whalebone (baleen) were most common but we do see plenty of examples of stays with other outer fabrics like wool and silk. Modern day reproductions are best made from layers of linen with German artificial whalebone which is a thin plastic, sturdier than other plastics like Rigilene but without the weight of steel. We do see quite a few women using traditional reed for their stays today with great success and at a less costly investment than the artificial whalebone.
What pattern should I use: If you have the money to spare opt for the Larkin & Smith front and back lacing stays pattern. The pattern is based on the latest research on 18th Century stays and is chock full of information. The instructions for the pattern come in a highly detailed spiral bound book and include everything you need to complete your stays, so simple a beginner can do it – so really there is no excuse for not having stays. Given that this pattern is as close to attending a workshop as you can get we think it’s worth every bit of the $28 price tag. So when it comes to working with a budget a good pair of stays should make the top of the list. Other patterns to consider include the JP Ryan back lacing stays pattern, the new Simplicity by American Duchess stays pattern, and the Red Threaded back lacing stays pattern. If you’d like to try your hand at grading up a pattern there are a number of stays patterns available for free! Check out this blog by Tea in a Teacup for a great rundown on working with the stays pattern from Norah Waughs Corsets and Crinolines.
So back to the original question, can a pair of stays be made on a budget? Yes and quite easily, might I add. Stays are a relatively small garment so finding linen at a thrift shop or remnant sale is a great place to start, my stays were made using an Irish linen tablecloth purchased from Goodwill for only $2.50. There are generally two to three layers that make up stays. Many people have used cotton duck canvas to act as the sturdy interior layer of the stays and pieced the lining with linen when working on a budget. I opted for the duck canvas ($3.99) for my stays interior and then pieced in the linen with leftover tablecloth pieces. Boning can be the most expensive part in a set of stays, especially if you opt for a fully boned set like I did. I wanted to try the artificial whalebone but it was a little out of my budget at the time I made my stays so I did a little bit of research and found a lot of costumers were using zip ties. I ended up purchasing plastic zipties in two different weights and widths from my local hardware store to use as boning, I think they cost about $6.99 total. For notions and what not I lucked into linen cordage and tape at our local Hobby Lobby, both on sale for half off only costing me a couple bucks total.
When it came to the pattern I dug through my stash and decided to try out the American Duchess pattern 8162 that Simplicity had produced. I had previously purchased it for fun when it was on sale at Joann Fabrics for .99¢. I knew going into the project that the pattern as is printed wouldn’t give me the HA look I wanted so I printed out the series of hacks Lauren from American Duchess put out to work through. Hindsight 20/20 I would have just ordered the Larkin & Smith pattern and started from that. My stays are functional but they don’t give me the support I need and the fit isn’t quite there despite doing a mock up, having the fitting tips and knowledge offered in the L&S pattern could have saved me having to make another set of stays.
So the takeaway, if you’re a woman, portraying a woman, you need stays. They aren’t difficult to make, even for beginners, and they don’t require a lot of materials. When trying to work on a budget opt for the best quality pattern you can afford and go from there. Thrift shops and remnant sales are perfect for finding the little bit of material you need and cable ties/zip ties are a great alternative to german artificial whalebone.
So ladies happy thrifting! We’ll be back after the holidays with the next installation of our Thrifty Reenactress blog series, plenty of time to get a head start on those stays. Don’t forget about our contest! Tag us on Facebook or Instagram with your budget wardrobe creations for a chance to win one of three prizes like this signature Dutch Milliners hair dressing set.